Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala

Date: April 23rd, 2003 Photos: 23

Peace Corps volunteers First three months of our service was training. We learnt about customs, agriculture, language etc. Here is our group of about 50 volunteers. I am the one with white hair in front raw. It was a great experience and fun working with young folks most of them straight out of college.

Tikal In El Peten in north Guatemala are the breath taking ruins of Maya civilization of long past. The old structures of around 700 AD can be seen from miles away. The steep and narrow steps lead to various worship places. The ancient ball parks and villages fill our minds with appreciation of local past.

One of the coffee producing communities This is a typical setting of a small community. They are called aldeas. You can see kids going to school. This has been possible with the development efforts of Talita Kumi.

Here is a scene from the rim of volcano Pacaya. It belches out sulfur every few minutes. In between the smoke you can see the lava.

Typical Family dwelling in the high country. Isolated on top of a beautiful mountain is the home of a farmer living a very harsh life. I stayed with them for a few nights. Chickens, cats, dog, three kids and husband and wife all in one room full of smoke from the cooking fire. Here I am with the kids. One had polio. The only toy was a torn up plastic football that they played with all the time. Hard to imagine such a harsh life in such a wonderful setting. They followed Indian rituals and had great late night laughing sessions with friends that came to visit.

Inside the house Having dinner with the host family. For most people breakfast, lunch and dinner are the same. Corn tortillas and beans. Sometimes only tortillas and salt. They drink the worst coffee that cannot be sold. Very weak and sweet.

The farm house from a distance Rain, cold and fog make this beautiful setting. With coffee prices at the lowest, some tree cutting goes on. Many organizations including Peace Corps are helping them get into tourism.

Students of Talita Kumi on a field trip One of the joys of my work was to take students on field trips. Here we are at an organic coffee farm that uses extensive wormiculture.

Teaching History of coffee propagation in the world Out side the cooperative office makes a good classroom as people going by stop to learn what ever they can. Often I learnt much more from them.

Coffee cooperative of Chiyo. Here is my counter part from Talita Kumi in the center, with the president and secretary of the coop on his left and right respectively.

Learning coffee history and world coffee production. You should see the look of disbelief when I told them we pay close to $3 (24 Quetzales) for a cup of coffee in a cafe or $10 a pound for gourmet beans. They often get less than 50 cents a pound for such hard labor and harsh life.

Graduation from Training. After three months of training we all got dressed for the ceremony. We were ready and anxious to get out on our old to the hinterlands to work with local people. Spanish I learnt was of little value as people I worked with talked in Queqchi, a Mayan language.

Teaching home base wormiculture It was great pleasure to teach the technical staff of ANACAFE about using red worms to convert kitchen scrap into fertilizer.

Off to aldeas to teach the local farmers. My only means of transport to the far away aldeas was hitching ride on trucks. Here I am going to one of the coffee cooperatives to teach marketing of coffee. My biggest push was to teach about Organic, Shade Grown, Fair traded coffee.

Wormiculture at Rubelhi Here is the organic farm we visited that uses the California red worms to convert compost into fertilizer. Wormiculture is growing in interest with coffee farmers as the pulp from coffee cherries which are normally discarded and create pollution of rivers can be converted into fertilizer.

Lake Atitlan This picturesque lake is surrounded by volcanic mountains where some of the best coffees are grown. The lake is a mile deep.

Volcano Agua Smoking and belching the plumes most of the time it made a great view from our training center.

Kite festival Colorful kites are hand made from paper by local groups to celebrate the day of dead ancestors. Various local communities join in for Marimba music and picnic.

ANACAFE Christas Coffee Sac Tree. Anacafe is the government coffee organization of Guatemala. They help the coffee farmers in all aspects of growing and marketing. I had opportunity of working with some of the most dedicated people from Anacafe during my work there.

Talita Kumi in San Pedro Carcha This is the NGO non profit organization I worked with in Carcha near Coban in Altaverapas. Most people in the area live on subsistence farming, follow Indian customs and speak Queqchi langauge. It was founded by Father George Puthenpura of India. He still works very hard to improve the lives of the local people. Talita Kumi means "get up girl". There are over 400 students who alternate between study for 15 days and teaching their own remote town people for the next fifteen days.

Students at Talita KUmi learning organic gardening It was a great pleasure and learning experience to teach these girls about organic farming and composting with wormiculture. I am looking over the girls preparing bedding for planting.

Cooperative Tea plantation Chirepec near Carcha. This is one of only two tea plantations in Guatemala. Run by a cooperative of over 80 small land owners. Their families work in the processing of tea. They are trying hard to export to USA. You can see tea plants in the background. Compared to the plantations I saw in India this is a very small operation.

Guatemala is a small country in Central America, size of no larger than Arizona with population of about 11 million. Even though it is a tropical country the climate varies from tropical to down right freezing cold depending on altitude. there are said to be over 20 microclimates, 24 states and over 20 indigenous languages spoken. Volcanoes as high as 3800 meters make Guatemala one of the most breathtakingly beautiful countries. The coffees produced in higher elevations in rich volcanic soils are exceptionally high quality Arabica SHB beans.